Weeding Your Professional Garden

Written by: Dr Suzanne Reed

I hate weeds.  I love my home and the way beautiful plants and flowers make it look, and then I hate weeds even more: they stand between me and my pretty flowers brightening up my home and yard.  As a busy physician with a working spouse and two little kids, weeding easily finds its way to the bottom of my to-do list.  Yet, every time I pull in my driveway and see the ever-growing weeds, I am newly annoyed.  Then, I walk inside to after-school, dinner, dishes, bedtime, laundry… weeds?  What weeds?  Oh yeah, those ones I notice again on my walk to the car the next morning. Gah!

When thinking about engagement as a key component of well-being at work, I sometimes find myself coming back to the idea that engagement is doing things.  And I am already doing So. Many. Things.  How can I do more things?!  I do deeply believe that tending to my work environment, even more so than tending to my garden, has direct impact on my daily and long-term well-being. And even with this deep belief, sometimes engagement beyond getting through the tasks of the workday still feels hard.  Sometimes I get stuck on the risk-reward balance of doing these things. Does a thing—joining a project, doing a presentation, spending extra time with a patient—have more reward than risk?  Sometimes even making that distinction feels like too much to mentally manage.  However, I also think that more than simply doing things, true and fulfilling engagement is a matter of doing the right things. And doing the right things for me means taking the extra moment to make the honest, heartfelt risk-reward calculation.  I still love so much about medicine, and through the weeds (ha!) of an often clunky, frustrating, and unpredictable work environment is work that truly matters to me and brings meaning to my life. And when I consider it this way, doing the right things is not just the right thing, it is imperative.  Tending to my work environment is imperative.

As one example of my own personal right thing, it was only upon returning to work after my first maternity leave that I realized that my clinical time was not prorated for the time I was away.  What?  I was supposed to work 12 months of clinic time in 9 months?  How was I supposed to do all of the other things (ah! things again!) in addition to more clinical time? I felt this so profoundly as a junior faculty and new mom, and the risk-reward calculation of addressing how maternity leave was factored into clinical expectations was a no-brainer.  With the help of a few thoughtful colleagues, open-minded leadership, and a few meetings, this institutional norm was changed in plenty of time for my next maternity leave a couple years later.  What a THING! For me, and the new parents who came after me.

Back to my weeds.  When I think more about it, putting on some music and pulling weeds in my garden is fulfilling: being outside, getting a little dirty, seeing measurable change…and usually it takes a lot less time and effort than I’ve imagined in my mind.  And I’ve cared for a space that I love, a space that that makes me feel calm and happy when it’s tended to.  And my work in medicine is also a garden, just like that.

While it is true, there ARE only so many things I can do, and for that, I give myself grace.  And I don’t beat myself up when my weeds get too high.  However, I try to keep in mind that a little time pulling weeds is most often worth the effort.